‘Sopranos’ hits bump

Mar 10, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The actor who plays North Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano in HBO’s wildly popular The Sopranos series has filed suit against the cable network, seeking to have his current contract nullified.
In response to the lawsuit, Chris Albrecht, HBO’s head, issued a strongly worded statement accusing actor James Gandolfini, a two-time Emmy winner for the role, of being “destructive” to the much-lauded series and acting in a way that’s “shocking and disappointing.”
“We were involved in good-faith discussions with James Gandolfini,” Mr. Albrecht said. “We had offered him a very substantial increase over what he is currently earning, despite absolutely no contractual obligations to do so and without receiving anything in return. We were doing this out of respect for Jim and in recognition of his talent and hard work. To have him now act in a manner so destructive to the show and the lives of the people involved is shocking and disappointing.”
A network spokesman declined to predict whether the Gandolfini lawsuit and the tough Albrecht statement signaled the end of The Sopranos, saying only, “It’s a strong statement. Let’s leave it at that.”
Mr. Gandolfini’s complaint asserts that HBO missed a contractual deadline for telling the actor he would be needed for a fifth season, according to a report in the New York Daily News.
Mr. Gandolfini also alleged in the suit, filed late last week in California, that the network violated the terms of his contract when it failed to inform him of a new $20 million deal with Sopranos creator David Chase, according to a wire service report.
“It’s our position that there is no legal obligation for James Gandolfini to perform his services for this season,” the actor’s lawyer told the New York newspaper. “HBO did not properly exercise its option for the fifth season.”
A network spokesman told the Reuters wire service that the suit was simply a negotiating ploy in the actor’s contract negotiations. Mr. Gandolfini receives approximately $400,000 per episode. According to several reports, he is looking for a raise that would put him in the same league as the top sitcom stars on NBC, who are the most highly paid actors on television. The Daily News report, however, pegs his new asking price at $750,000 per episode. Frasier star Kelsey Grammer, for example, is paid a reported $1.6 million per episode, and the stars of Friends take home $1 million each per episode.
The Sopranos is scheduled to begin shooting its new-season episodes at the end of this month.